Aquino: No 'pork' until NBI probe finished

(UPDATED) President Benigno Aquino III has suspended the release of priority development assistance funds (PDAF) pending the investigation conducted by government authorities on the P10-billion pork barrel scam involving members of Congress.

In an exclusive television report aired by GMA 7's news program, Aquino said no PDAF or pork barrel funds will be released for the second half of this year until the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) finish its probe and the loopholes on the release of funds are addressed.

Aquino however said his administration has no plans of abolishing the PDAF system wherein each senator receives a yearly allocation of P200 million and congressmen get P70 million each.

"Huwa naman madamay 'yung mahusay at matino sa mga taong mapagsamantala. 'Yung PDAF, lalo na sa hard aspect, nakakatulong na mas mabilis matugunan yung pangangailangan ng komunidad," he said referring to the hard projects under the PDAF menu provided by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

Aquino earlier disclosed that two to three individuals implicated in the pork barrel scam will be charged soon by the DOJ.

In a text message, Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad said it was the "prudent" thing to do following reports that businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles, who has gone into hiding, channeled pork barrel funds to dubious non-government organizations (NGOs).

Recently, the Commission on Audit also released a report stating that some P6.156 billion PDAF of close to 200 lawmakers from 2007 to 2009 were channeled to dubious NGOs.

"Even before the President made the announcement, the DBM already suspended the processing of PDAF project requests. We thought it was a prudent thing to do considering that it was likely that there will be changes in the PDAF policies -- in the menu, in procurement, whether or not downloading to LGUs/NGOs will continue, etc.," Abad said.

"We will await instructions from the President, who I believe will be conferring with the Speaker and the Senate President," he said referring to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

In the proposed budget for 2014, the DBM has already limited the NGOs to which the pork barrel funds can be used.

In the National Expenditure Program (NEP) submitted by the DBM to Congress, it states that "civil society organizations may only be identified as a recipient, beneficiary or implementing entity" of the PDAF upon the accreditation of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

House committee on appropriations chairman Isidro Ungab said that although the suspension of PDAF will affect the delivery of social services in his district in Davao City, he will abide by the decision of the President.

"I have to make arrangements with local government hospitals, DOH and DSWD to temporarily cater them in the meantime that processing of PDAF is suspended," he said.

But Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares, who earlier shunned his share of the pork barrel, said that Aquino's decision is not enough considering the growing clamor to abolish the PDAF system.

"President Aquino either misses the point or just doesn't want to follow his 'boss' the Filipino people. Pork barrel by nature is a lump sum amount which is used for patronage politics because, not only the amount but also the selection of the projects and its beneficiaries rests on the approval of one person," he pointed out.

Colmenares, along with six others members of the progressive party-list bloc calling for the abolition of the pork barrel fund, earlier said that they will not accept their yearly P70 million PDAF.

In the Senate, the chamber's majority bloc will file a resolution the next session expressing its decision not to use their PDAF allotments pending the implementation of stricter safeguards against misuse.

"The majority senators' decision to adopt the resolution is a manifestation of their interest in making the use of the PDAF more transparent and open for scrutiny of the public that will help prevent the abuses and inadequacies which were observed in the Commission on Audit report," said Senate President Drilon.

Drilon said the majority senators agreed to let the Budget department promulgate stricter and more effective implementing guidelines on the release of the PDAF and the determination of qualified projects under the PDAF menu as provided in the national budget.

Among others, the Senate President said the DBM should look into assessment of COA in its special audit report.

These are inadequacies in the monitoring of the releases of PDAF for priority projects identified by legislators; lack of periodic assessment of the projects included in the PDAF menu; and inadequacies in the release of the PDAF for projects without completed documentation and/or outside the menu.

Drilon has since called for the abolition of the PDAF and supported a proposal of Senator Miriam Santiago to gradually decrease allocation for pork barrel until its elimination by 2016.

He suggested limiting the use of the PDAF to medical assistance to be coursed through directly to government and district hospitals, and to school building program.

Senator Gregorio Honasan II, a member of the six-member minority bloc, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, an officer of the influential Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said only the abolition of pork barrel will ensure that the P10-billion scam will not happen again in the future.

"Even if some lawmakers claim that they are not involved in the scam as they comprehensively and accurately report their PDAF expenses, it is still best to abolish a system of corruption such as this," said CBCP – National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace (Nassa) chairman Bishop Broderick Pabillo.

Aquino earlier rejected calls for the abolition of the PDAF, saying only those responsible for misusing it should be held liable.

Pabillo, however, said the President's position does not deter their call to scrap pork barrel of lawmakers.

"Lawmakers are elected by the people to legislate and not to implement government projects. Pork barrel is a system of corruption that has to be abolished," said Pabillo.

A massive protest against pork barrel is set August 26 at the Luneta Park in Manila. (Kathrina Alvarez/HDT/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)
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